STATE CHAMPS AGAIN
(Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis) The Cassville Wildcats accomplished one of the toughest feats in Missouri high school sports, winning back-to-back state football championships with a convincing 24-7 victory over previously unbeaten Bowling Green on Saturday.
Joseph Gouvion sprinted into the record books with an 85-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to offset Bowling Green's opening-drive score. Trevor Tanner scored twice, Matt Angel booted a 38-yard field goal, and the Cassville defense solved the Bowling Green spread offense to earn another MSHSAA Class 3 football title.
Keys to the game
For the third consecutive playoff game, Cassville faced a superlative quarterback. But while Colton Dill, of Logan-Rogersville, and T.J. White, of O'Hara, are great runners who keep you off balance with their passing, Bowling Green's Ryan Cox is a pure thrower. Cox threw for 2,356 yards and 27 touchdowns on the season, and his favorite target, tight end Cody Spegal, hauled in 42 catches for 561 yards and six scores.
The spread offense of the Bobcats places maximum pressure on the linebackers and defensive backs, creating mismatches and often resulting in blown assignments and wide open receivers. Lance Parnell, Cassville's defensive coordinator, knew the game within the game would be waged between his coverage scheme and the Bowling Green aerial circus.
Cassville has its own offensive superstars and runs from a bewildering array of formations. Wishbone, split backs, power-I, Wildcat, shotgun: the Wildcats cause sleepless nights for defensive coordinators responsible for trying to stop them. Both Gouvion and Trevor Tanner rushed for over 1,000 yards, with able support from Zach Vittitoe, Josh Lewright and others.
Gouvion is a scoring machine, totaling 31 touchdowns in Cassville's 14 games prior to the championship. Lewright tweaked a hamstring in the semifinal win over O'Hara but looked fine in pregame warm-ups in the Dome.
The Bowling Green Bobcats, playing in the relatively-weak Eastern Missouri Conference, received little respect from the polls all year due to their light schedule. The Bobcats played only two eight-win foes all year, while Cassville's games against Seneca alone equaled that total.
But still, Bowling Green's defense held opponents to less than nine points a game, an impressive total against any 14 teams in a single season. The Bobcats are led on defense by big Geoff Correnti at middle linebacker and 6-7 defensive end, Jeff Neimeyer.
In contrast, Cassville plays defense by committee in Parnell's scheme. The Wildcats have consistently given up points early in critical contests but tighten up like a boa constrictor in the second half, allowing just over 11 points per contest. Linebacker Devin Linenbrink leads the squad with 83 tackles with Lewright, Trenton Tanner and Garrett Mahurin all recording more than 50 stops.
The most glaring advantage on paper belonged to the Cassville kicking game. Besides his five-of-seven field goal accuracy, Matt Angel has connected on 52 of 55 extra points. The two Bowling Green kickers -- Ryan Cox and Leon Reuss -- combined for a paltry 34 of 46 attempts. Cox connected on a single field goal during the year.
Bowling Green stormed down the field and scored on the game's first possession, drawing snide comparisons from the press box denizens to the dome tenants, the St. Louis Rams. The Bobcats picked Cassville's pass defense apart, going 77 yards in 13 plays. Bowling Green converted a fourth and 11 in Cassville territory, and then Cox found Zach Pease in the middle of the endzone on fourth and goal from the 5.
Bowling Green held Cassville to three and out on the Wildcats' first turn with the ball. Cox rallied his team down the field again, reaching the Cassville 27-yard line. Trey Rose made a leaping interception in the endzone to rescue the beleaguered Wildcat defense and keep the lead at only 7-0.
The Wildcats drove to midfield in five plays, and Gouvion crashed for a yard on fourth and inches. On second and 12, Travis Northern hauled in a pass from Trevor Tanner for a first down but fumbled while fighting for extra yardage. The Bobcats took over at their own 49 after a short return.
The clock ran out on a quarter in which Cassville had only 11 offensive snaps. Bowling Green's Cox completed 10 of 13 passes for 82 yards and a TD in that same span, and only Rose's timely interception kept Cassville within a single score.
"Sometimes we make adjustments on the fly during the game," said Coach David Large referring to his defensive plan.
With no common opponents, all the film study in the world won't give a true measure of a team's speed, strength or heart. Only when the teams finally collide on the field can coaches get a firm read on how players will perform in certain situations.
After Cox dissected his defense in that opening period, Coach Parnell hurriedly altered his scheme like a contestant in a Rubik's Cube competition. The gaping holes in the secondary disappeared, and Cassville's umbrella defense forced a Bowling Green punt that rolled dead at the Wildcat 14-yard line.
Into the record books
"Cassville football, second down and nine at the 15-yard line. Tanner has split backs behind him with Northern wide to the left. Toss sweep to Gouvion running left, Northern frees the sideline with a block, Gouvion stays in bounds, gets past the safety, he's gone! Eighty-five yards to the house! Touchdown, Cassville!"
Gouvion's scoring sprint tied the third-longest rush from scrimmage in the history of the Show-Me Bowl and obliterated the early momentum of Bowling Green. Angel tied the game at 7-7 with his PAT.
After Gouvion electrified the crowd with his score at the 11:04 mark, the Wildcat defense forced another punt. Cox's soccer-style kick bounded inside the five, where Trevor Tanner tried to scoop it up and run. Tanner fumbled the ball but pounced on it as the coverage team buried him at the 2-yard line.
"That's just Tanner," said Coach Large. "He thinks he's Superman and believes he can score any time."
The 'Cats then marched 98 yards in nine plays, gaining 63 of those yards on a flea flicker bomb from Trevor Tanner to Northern that reached just inside the Bowling Green 20-yard stripe. Trevor Tanner scored off left tackle on fourth and goal from the Bobcat one-yard line, and Cassville led 14-7 at halftime following Angel's second PAT.
A fumble, Cassville's second turnover of the half, inside the Bowling Green 15 in the final 50 seconds of the half cost Cassville a chance to increase the lead. Cox took a knee twice to run out the clock and send the teams to the locker rooms.
After gaining only 40 yards on the ground in the first quarter, the Wildcats racked up 135 rushing yards in the second. Much like O'Hara in the semifinal game, Bowling Green was wearing down under the relentless Cassville attack. Cassville dressed 85 players for the championship game, while Bowling Green suited only 53.
Early in the game, the Bobcats played a hurry-up offense, snapping the ball with 20 seconds showing on the play clock. While the tactic helped earn the early touchdown, it also hastened the demise of the team with fewer substitution options.
Cassville received to start the third quarter but failed to make a first down. On fourth and six from his own 42-yard line, Northern toed a 56-yard howitzer that Rose killed at the Bowling Green 1-yard line. The Bobcats were forced to line up in the power I to try to wedge out some breathing room. Two plays netted five yards and then Cox threw incomplete on third down. His fourth-down punt reached only to the Bobcat 38-yard line.
Another two-play drive
Lewright crashed off left tackle to the 35-yard line to set up second and 7.
"Cassville football, second down and seven at the Bowling Green 35. Gouvion dots the I in the backfield. Tanner takes the snap, fakes to Gouvion, he keeps through the line, spins past the backers, he wins the footrace! Touchdown, Cassville!"
Trevor Tanner's second score and Angel's third PAT upped the Cassville lead to 21-7 with 8:05 to play in the third quarter.
Angel's opening kickoff of the contest reached the Bobcat 2-yard line and was returned out to the 33. From that point on, Angel owned the Dome. His three kickoffs following the Cassville touchdowns all resulted in touchbacks. With the crowd murmuring its approval, Angel drove the ball deep into the endzone, quelling any hopes of a breakaway return.
Then with 3:11 to play in the third quarter, Angel easily connected on a 38-yard field goal attempt to increase the lead to 24-7. His ensuing kickoff landed eigh yards deep in the end zone for yet another touchback.
The scouts in the press box were scribbling A-N-G-E-L on the backs of their programs at the end of the third quarter.
Penalties deny points
Twice in the fourth quarter, Cassville penalties cost opportunities to increase the lead.
Bowling Green stuffed Trevor Tanner on a fourth and inches attempt at the Cassville 41 and took over in Wildcat territory with 10:46 remaining in the game. Cox led the Bobcats on a desperate drive to the red zone.
On second and goal at the Cassville 9-yard line, Cox misread the coverage and threw the quick out when his receiver broke upfield. The pass hit defensive back Chris Smith between the numbers on his chest, and the Wildcat defender won a 97-yard sprint to the end zone. But a flag for a push in the back that occurred 40 yards away from the ballcarrier cost the Wildcats a touchdown and erased what would have been the second-longest interception return in Show-Me Bowl history.
Cassville retained possession with a first and 10 at its own 44. On fourth and seven at the Bowling Green 37, Lewright lined up at quarterback in the wishbone formation. Trevor Tanner took the quick toss running left, pulled up and threw a strike to Northern down the middle at the 3-yard line. But that play was also erased by a yellow flag, and Northern punted away on fourth down.
With time slipping away, Cox rallied the Bobcats from their own 10 to the Cassville 41 with 1:34 to play. His fourth down pass fell incomplete, and Cassville took over on downs.
Gouvion slashed for five yards on the final carry of his high school career, and Trevor Tanner took a knee on successive plays as the clock ran out.
Coach David Large credited his players, and especially the seniors, for their ability to overcome adversity and earn another state title.
"These guys don't get too excited when things go wrong. They just find a way to get things done," he said.
"The Branson game showed us where we needed to change and improve," Large commented on his team's only loss. "Then we had a tough stretch of games with Carl Junction, Monett and Seneca. When we got through that stretch, that's when I felt like we were a good football team."
The 12th man
"The Wildcat Nation is kind of scary isn't it?" laughed Large at the postgame press conference.
He complimented the Cassville community for its strong support, saying, "Most road games, we had more people in the stands than our opponents. Our community gives us a great following."
The Cassville fans, band and boosters occupied a full four sections on the visitors' side of the Edward Jones Dome with an estimated contingent of 2,200.
Bowling Green Head Coach Jimmy Tucker had the most ill-advised quote of the 2009 Show-Me Bowl weekend. Tucker told Joe Lyons of the St. Louis media, "We know Cassville's a very good football team, but we also know they're not the same team that won the championship last year."
Given the chance, Tucker might want to amend his pre-game statement.